Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
It was a season of great expectations for South Florida. And even greater disappointment.
Picked by many to finish first or second in the Big East, the Bulls went 5-0 in their nonconference schedule to rise to No. 10 in the polls, the second top 10 ranking in as many years for the program.
The rest of the Big East was not impressed. South Florida won just two league games, or one more than cellar dwellers Syracuse and Louisville. A three-game losing streak late in the year ended with an embarrassing 49-16 home loss to Rutgers before a scattered crowd at Raymond James Stadium.
The offense became predictable and mistake-prone, scoring an average of just 12.5 points over the last four games. The defense was hit hard by injuries and couldn't stop the big play.
Reigning Big East defensive player of the year George Selvie said in the preseason that his goal was 20 sacks. Constant double teams and an ankle injury limited him to just 5.5. That was South Florida's season in a nutshell -- lofty aspirations, unsatisfying results.
Offensive MVP: Matt Grothe, QB. Grothe led the Big East in total offense with 3,183 yards and remains the focal point of the Bulls' attack with his arm and legs. But the team often puts too much pressure on Grothe to make plays, and he forced things too often when times got tough. Grothe had 15 touchdown passes but also 14 interceptions, 11 of those coming in the last five games.
Defensive MVP: Tyrone McKenzie, LB. Selvie remains the best player on the team, usually occupying at least two blockers to allow others to make plays. But somebody still has to make those plays. And McKenzie was the most consistent defensive presence for 12 games, finishing second in the Big East with 105 tackles.
Turning point: The Bulls' perfect record evaporated on Oct. 2 when Pittsburgh came to Tampa and won, 26-21. The Panthers provided the blueprint for the rest of the league to follow against the Bulls: Keep Grothe in the pocket and get hands in his face, and throw deep against the South Florida secondary.
What's next: The Bulls will play their bowl game just about 30 miles from campus in the magicJack St. Petersburg Bowl against Memphis. Perhaps playing a nonconference opponent again will rejuvenate them. Selvie seems likely to go to the NFL after this season, but with Grothe back for his senior year, hopes will be high again for South Florida in 2009.